The mesmerising array of academic and historical books still manage to create a feeling of awe upon entrance to Chetham’s Library. Even now, in the age of technology, nothing compares to the overwhelming sight of shelves upon shelves of books dating as far back as the 16th Century.
Founded in 1653, by the will of Humphrey Chetham, a wealthy banker, textile merchant and landowner, Chetham’s Library is not only one of the oldest, most treasured buildings in Manchester, but is also the oldest English speaking library in the world. Humphrey Chetham feared that upon his death the government would take his wealth and instead donated it to form a new school, which then became Chetham’s Hospital, Library and School of Music. The School of Music, as well as the library itself are now prominent attractions in Manchester.
In 1845, the library held significance in Manchester as it was the meeting place of philosophers and social commentators, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The pair would meet to discuss government statistical enquiries and peruse the Lancashire statistical surveys which still remain today in the alcove in which they used to meet. Friedrich Engels, some 30 years later, referred to Chetham’s Library in a letter to Karl Marx, stating its importance to him and his philosophical ideologies.
‘During the last few days I have again spent a good deal of time sitting at the four-sided desk in the alcove where we sat together twenty-four years ago. I am very fond of the place. The stained glass window ensures that the weather is always fine there. Old Jones, the Librarian, is still alive but he is very old and no longer active. I have not seen him on this occasion.’
Nowadays, Chetham’s library remains a popular historical landmark in Manchester due to its illustrious background and multitude of historiographical books, artwork and religious texts. It is a must-see in Manchester for anybody interested in Social history, the works of Marx and Engels or anyone who simply wants to see a fraction of what made Manchester the greatest industrial city in the world.